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Behind the Scenes of Between the Sheets: The Making of a Sex Scene

Two white women lying side by side
A scene from the 2015 film "Carol" starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Ever wondered how a sex scene gets made? It involves some choreography...and lots of communication and consent. And key players in making it all happen safely are intimacy coordinators.

Consent is an essential part of sex. Whether it’s with a one-night stand, a years-long partner...or between actors filming a sex scene for the latest blockbuster. Attention to consent and safety in Hollywood has gained traction in the past few years with the rise of movements like #MeToo. And it’s put new emphasis on the importance of intimacy coordinators — people who act as advocates for the actors’ well-being in intimate scenes and ensure that the scene happens in a safe, consent-driven way.

Host Anita Rao talks with Mia Schachter, a consent educator and intimacy coordinator, and Teniece Divya Johnson, a stunt performer and intimacy coordinator, about the work they do on set. And filmmaker Natalie Bullock Brown joins the conversation to share her favorite moments of intimacy on screen.

Interview Highlights

Mia Schachter on how intimacy coordinators create safe spaces for creativity:

Our job is to eliminate surprises to the best of our ability, because that shock is where there's a lot of potential for trauma and harm. … Historically, sex scenes and nudity have been scenes that have been like — the can gets kicked down the road, like: We'll figure it out on the day. Or like: This person will figure it out, or we'll let the actors figure it out. And we're really trying to avoid that so that we can build trust and then build a structure in which actors can play. I think it's really something that has really changed my life from this work is the idea that within a structure, I feel a lot more room to explore and be creative.

Favorite Intimate Scene: Listener Edition - Disobedience, 2017

Jo_Disobedience (Made by Headliner).mp4
At the time, I didn’t know that that was something that was … allowed and liked. But here I am, a couple years later, and I know that that is something that is actually really kinky and really wonderful.
Jo in Richmond, VA

Teniece Divya Johnson on working with directors and producers without prior experience of intimacy coordination:

I find the best approach is to meet people where they are. No one came to work for a Ph.D. in consent. They're all moving like a freight train towards the destination. So we meet them where they are, introduce gently some new tools that may be helpful. And this can be a sensitive area, we're talking about veteran directors, we're talking about veteran performers, we're talking about producers that have been doing this forever. So when we're introducing new tools, it's really important that we're engaging people in a sense of curiosity and wonder. And far, far away from feelings of shame or guilt.

Favorite Intimate Scene: Listener Edition - Fleabag, 2016-2019

Kera_vm EDT JL audiogram (Made by Headliner) (1).mp4
It’s just so great because now that she has this intimacy with someone in her world, she wants to hold that … before, it was just us, the audience, getting these bits of vulnerability from her, and now it’s him!
Kera in Carrboro, NC

Natalie Bullock Brown on why Hollywood should show the diversity and messiness of relationships and sex on screen:

Can we show what it's really like? And not clean it up so much that, you know, then we're all kind of left judging ourselves against some completely unattainable standard that we're not even fully realizing we're judging ourselves against. I just think it's a real disservice to the relationships that, in many ways, our culture speaks to and says we're supposed to foster. We have so much repression going on in our culture on top of all of that, but if we could just be real, I think it would do so, so much good for how we relate to each other, especially when we're trying to foster intimate relationships.

Please note: This conversation originally aired May 7, 2021.

Stay Connected
Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.